A prominent San Diego physician and his fiancee, a San Diego nurse, were identified Tuesday as two of seven skiers killed in an avalanche in northeast British Columbia.
The bodies of Dr. Michael David Lutz, 46, and Julianna Lawlor, 30, a nurse in Sharp Memorial Hospital's surgical intensive care unit, were flown to Clearwater, British Columbia, about 70 miles south of the avalanche site, said Cpl. Jim Mackie of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Lutz was chief of nephrology, the study of kidney disease, at Mercy Hospital.
Lutz's daughter, Anna Elizabeth, 19, who also was with the 10-member helicopter-skiing party, escaped injury. Lutz's 16-year-old son, Matthew, who accompanied his father to British Columbia, was skiing elsewhere when the avalanche struck, according to Dr. J. Michael Channick, a colleague of Lutz's at Balboa Internal Medicine, a private clinic.
"Some of our partners have spoken with them (Lutz's children)," a subdued Channick said. "No, they're not injured, only emotional."
Mackie said the RCMP and two Canadian avalanche experts are investigating the cause of the avalanche, which struck at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the Cariboo Mountains, about 240 miles northeast of Vancouver.
Helicopter skiing is a popular sport in Canada, wherein skiers are airlifted to remote areas, then ski down to a spot where they are picked up by helicopter.
Shortly after getting out of the helicopter and starting downhill in single file, following their guide, Fred Pfisterer, 24, an avalanche about 3 feet high and 500 feet wide swept onto the skiers, Mackie said. The three survivors were at the end of the line and escaped the rush of snow.
Moments before being buried, Pfisterer radioed a frantic warning, the pilot of the helicopter that had dropped the group off told Associated Press.
"Get out of the way! Avalanche!" the guide radioed as the wall of snow rushed downhill, the pilot said.
A spokeswoman for Mike Wiegle's Helicopter Skiing, the company that took the skiers to the mountain range, said the incident was totally unexpected.
"They were skiing in a very familiar area and on a very familiar mountain," said Sandy Burgess, a spokeswoman for the firm, adding, "All our runs our mapped out." The firm operates out of Blue River.
Mackie said authorities were notified of the accident after survivors and members of another ski group used shovels and poles to locate and dig out the bodies.
The helicopter skiing firm told authorities that tests were conducted last week at the same elevation and under the same conditions, and that the area was considered safe to ski. No tests were conducted on the run this week, however.
Meteorologists speculated that recent relatively warm 46-degree temperatures may have played a role in causing the avalanche.
Lutz and Lawlor had planned to be married in August, Channick said. He described Lutz as a hard worker who associated himself closely with patients ill with severe kidney ailments.
"He took care of the (same) patients three times every week so the binds are very tight," Channick said, adding that Lutz was an expert in setting up kidney dialysis at the homes of his patients. "Pretty much everyone knows now about what happened. He really was an outstanding kidney specialist in the city."
Mary Yarbrough, executive vice president for Mercy Hospital, said the hospital's staff was stunned upon learning of Lutz's death.
"He was a well-respected man," Yarbrough said. "He has worked in our dialysis unit, which was a large piece of his workload here."
From 1973 to 1978, Lutz was an assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego. During that time he was also a senior physician on the staff of the VA Medical Center in La Jolla.
Since 1979, he had been in private practice, working primarily with chronically ill kidney patients.
Lawlor was hired at Sharp Memorial Hospital on March 5, 1979. In addition to being a nurse in the surgical intensive care unit, she was a clinical nurse educator in the critical care department, hospital spokeswoman Diana Larson said.
Kay Mansmann, 47, and his son, Philip Walter Mansmann, 22, of West Germany were the other survivors of the avalanche.
The other victims were identified as Philip Gary Marchildon, 31, and Martin John Zajac, 28, both of Phoenix; Lawrence Perry Ludden, 33, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; John Jeffrey Hill, 27, of Chicago, and Pfisterer of Jasper, Alberta.
Mackie said this was the worst avalanche disaster ever in British Colombia. He said 2 people died in 1985 when 13 people on a Wiegle helicopter skiing trip were caught in an avalanche.